Notes from Apple’s Q4 2012 Conference Call


During Apple’s fourth quarter 2012 financial results conference call, Apple CEO Tim Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer made a number of comments related to Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod businesses.

Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s CFO, noted that the iPod touch continued to account for over 50% of iPods sold, and continues to account for 70% of market share, according to NPD. This is despite declines in overall iPod sales.

Oppenheimer also noted that the demand for the iPhone 5 continues to outstrip supply and the company continues to work as hard as it can to get an iPhone into the hands of every customer who wants one.

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iPad sales were ahead of expectations with strong year-over-year growth beyond the company’s projections. Apple made a revenue of $7.5 billion from iPad sales compared to $6.9 billion in the year-ago quarter, an increase of 9 percent. The company currently has 3.4 million iPads in channel inventory, an increase of 200,000 units that keeps it just over its 4-week channel inventory target. 

He went on to note that the company sold 44 million iOS devices this quarter, and now has over 700,000 apps in the App Store, with 275,000 apps designed for the iPad. Apple also saw an all-time record for quarterly app sales and reached 6.5 billion in cumulative payments to developers.

Customers are embracing iCloud in growing numbers: 190 million account signups in the first year of the service. iOS 6 launched last month is already on over 200 million devices. Notably, Oppenheimer also stated, “we made a number of improvements to Maps over the past month, and won’t stop until it lives up to our incredibly high standards.”

“We’re extremely proud to have concluded an amazing fiscal year 2012,” Oppenheimer stated, noting that Apple sold 200 million iOS devices, including 125 million iPhones reflecting 73% growth year-over-year, and 58 million iPads reflecting 80% growth year-over-year.  35 million iPods have also been sold and the iTunes Music Store was expanded to 60 countries around the world this year. 

During the Q&A session, both executives made several comments of interest.

Oppenheimer noted that the company is going into a strong holiday quarter, with the iPhone 4 now starting at free in the subsidized markets. He mentioned several times that the new iPad mini is “aggressively priced at $329 delivering incredible value to our customers” and that margins on Apple’s newest products are lower than their predecessors, but that the sheer number of new products introduced at the same time is creating margin challenges, as they’re all at the start of their expense curve.

Cook also weighed in indicating that Apple’s “relentless commitment to innovation and excellence is the reason consumers buy our products.”

Commenting on iPhone 5 supply and demand, Cook noted that he remains confident on Apple’s ability to continue to supply an adequate number of iPhones and anticipates continuing to roll out to all 100 countries where the iPhone 5 has been scheduled for release this quarter, stating that it is Apple’s “faster rollout ever.”  Cook also noted that “the past six weeks have been phenomenal in terms of product introduction.”

When asked about the tablet market, the introduction of the iPad mini and the evolution to larger tablets going forward to take on incremental PC functionality, Cook responded that “We continue to be very confident that the tablet market will surpass the PC market” noting the incredible development in the tablet market and that “it’s already extremely compelling for many customers to choose a tablet, particularly an iPad, over the PC.”  He stated that the company continues to focus on the future of the iPad and are very confident with what they have in the pipeline.

Responding to a question about the competitive tablet landscape, Cook noted that he hasn’t tried a Microsoft Surface yet, but from what he has read about it it’s a “fairly compromised, confusing product.” Cook noted that “one of the toughest things you do with a product is making hard tradeoffs…. I suppose you could design a car that flies and floats, but I don’t think it would do all of those things really well.” Cook went on to state that “I think people are going to conclude that…they really want an iPad.”

Asked about the iPad mini and how it is differentiated from other iPad models, and whether it will cannibalize other Apple devices, Cook responded that “customers will decide which one or two or three or all four they want and will buy those. We’ve learned over the years not to worry about cannibalization of our own products—it’s much better for us to do it than for somebody else to do it.”  There are still over 300 million PCs being bought per year, and I think a great number of those would be much better off buying an iPad – or a Mac – and that’s a much bigger opportunity for Apple and instead of being focused on cannibalizing ourselves I look upon it as an enormous opportunity for us.

On discussing the Apple TV, Cook noted that the company sold 1.3 million Apple TV units this quarter, up over 100 percent year-on-year, with more than 5 million Apple TVs sold during this fiscal year—almost double the 2.8 million from the previous year.  He said that the Apple TV business continues to do very well, but remains quite small and still has the hobby label based on the revenue it generates versus Apple’s other businesses. However Cook described it as a “beloved hobby” and noted that the company continues to focus on it, believes there’s something more there and will “see where it takes us.”

Regarding the 17m to 14m unit decline of iPad sales in the September quarter, Cook responded that the June quarter was huge with a 1.2 million increase in channel inventory such that actual sell-through sequentially looks different than reported sell-in numbers do. Cook noted that the 14 million actually exceeded Apple’s expectations; Apple had expected a decline based on results from the previous two to three years as normally there’s a seasonal reduction in September compared to June. K-12 does most of its heavy buying in June rather than September. Cook went on to note that this is exaggerated even more when there’s a product announced in March, and that customers also “clearly delay purchases due to new product rumors, and these intensified in September.”  Cook mentioned, however, that “the sell-through year-over-year actually grew 44 percent, so the underlying sell-through was extremely strong, and we continue to feel great about how iPad is done and with announcing the fourth-generation iPad just this week and adding iPad mini to the family we think it’s going to be an incredible holiday season.”

Asked about Apple’s pricing philosophy for the iPad and whether it was cost-based or the result of a premium brand. Oppenheimer noted that Apple didn’t set out to build a small, cheap tablet, but to build a smaller iPad that delivers the full iPad experience. He noted that there is a “profound difference” between the iPad mini and competition, citing the 7.9” display, much better user experience, two great cameras, and fast communications with dual-band Wi-Fi, in addition to the A5 chip and the fit and finish of the unibody enclosure. He stated that the iPad mini has higher costs, and that the gross margin is already significantly below Apple’s corporate average.

A question was raised as to whether Apple plans to play in the “subsidizing hardware with software/content sales” game, to which Cook effectively said no, and that Apple’s focus remains on making great hardware.

When asked about Samsung, and LCD supplies specifically, Cook replied simply and somewhat tersely that Apple “continues to be a customer of Samsung and have a commercial relationship.”

Responding to earlier comments about an statement by late CEO Steve Jobs suggesting that Apple would not enter the 7” tablet market, Cook responded that “we would not make one of the seven-inch tablets. We don’t think they’re good products, and we would never make one.”  Cook noted that the iPad mini has the same number of pixels as the iPad 2 and access to all of the same 275,000 apps on the App Store that were custom-designed to take advantage of the full canvas. Cook stated that the “iPad mini is a fantastic product—it is not a compromised product like the 7” tablets—it’s in a whole different league.”

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Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.